Using SharePoint e-discovery for enterprise content management

SharePoint e-discovery functionality in SharePoint 2013 enables the platform to provide more fine-grained enterprise content management capabilities.

With any Microsoft release, part of the challenge is getting a handle on its tools -- not just how they work but

also the best way to use them. SharePoint e-discovery functionality in SharePoint 2013 provides specific enterprise content management advantages -- but only if you think about your usage scenarios up front.

The value of SharePoint e-discovery capabilities is considerable.

The value of SharePoint e-discovery capabilities is considerable: multi-farm search, file shares and Exchange Server in scope, a site collection for case queries, content. These functions can be used together to simplify case-based operations of many types.

When we say case-based operation, we mean a business process that is built around a medium- or long-term event or relationship, such as a patient history, a customer relationship or a business deal. Such a process involves many types of information: files, email messages, records and perhaps multimedia content.

Traditionally, gathering up all the content that is relevant to such a process involved access to content from many sources -- inconvenient and time-consuming at best, and fraught with error at worst. SharePoint e-discovery addresses this problem, and offers a tool set that enables practices and processes you might never have thought of, as long as you apply them in this context.

A meta-site collection

The same design features that enable multi-farm search capability also enable one to search Exchange servers and file shares in an e-discovery search. So, it's not a great distance to create site collections that can access content throughout the enterprise. Then case-based queries can be written and run, creating sites that exist specifically for case-based operations. By devoting sites to case-based operations, you can run queries that search a range of content.

But accessing content distributed among a range of data formats is a metadata operation, so note that enterprise metadata taxonomy needs to be disciplined and uniform; dating of material is a high priority because queries are almost always date-sensitive; and expedient use of free-text search is important, necessitating user training.

Content on hold

Once gathered, case-based content is useful to teams, and that content is not always fixed. While some of it (emails, for instance) needs to be preserved as is, often files require periodic update, or workflow-driven editing.

For more on SharePoint e-discovery

SharePoint 2013 release improves e-discovery

Configuring SharePoint 2013 for e-discovery

SharePoint governance and e-discovery

To accommodate this, e-discovery permits tagging of case-based query results with on-hold status, to preserve the content in place while simultaneously allowing it to be modified.

Once the case content -- email, files, lists, pages -- have been identified, they are preserved at the site level in the e-discovery site collection (where the queries used to gather them may be stored for future use). Once tagged on hold, they are automatically versioned, so that the state of each object upon retrieval is retained, while changes made in the course of business moving forward may also be saved. In this way, a before-and-after picture of all case content is preserved (in the past, this was a manual process).

Wrap it up to go

Finally, there's the question of what to do with the case content when it's gathered, edited and good to go. Often, the answer is "Nothing." It's fine where it is, and leaving it in a site in the e-discovery site collection will do.

But sometimes it must be exported to another platform. Suppose an enterprise is considering a partner relationship with a company with which it has done business in the past, and the content used for vetting that company needs to live in the customer relationship management system of a negotiating third party. Exporting all the on-hold content -- Exchange files, lists, pages in a single export package, formatted for easy upload to another platform -- is optimum.

SharePoint e-discovery provides that functionality. The caveat is that the file formats for the export are a mixture of Microsoft-specific and industry-generic (lists are presented as comma separated values, or CSV files; wiki pages as Multipurpose Mail Protocol Interface, or MIME HTML files; and so forth).

On the whole, SharePoint e-discovery functionality is a major step forward in content management for several very specific use cases, though the preplanning must be rigorous. In the big picture, of course, this is no weakness.

This was first published in November 2013

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